Saturday, April 15, 2023

Dig In!

Film: The Menu
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on basement television.

I like to cook. I’m not what anyone would call a foodie by any stretch, and I’m nothing like a gourmet chef, but I like working in the kitchen. I have a disturbingly large collection of cookbooks, and I do actually use them pretty regularly. I say all of this at the start because The Menu is about food, at least on the surface. It’s about a hell of a lot more, but it’s the food that’s going to get us in the door.

We begin with Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) and Margot (Anna Taylor-Joy), waiting for a boat. Tyler is a foodie and the two of them are going to an island restaurant for an incredibly exclusive meal. A world-renowned chef named Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) runs a restaurant on the island. They serve to about a dozen people a night, service takes about 4 ½ hours, and it costs $1250 per person. We see a few other people getting on board the ship. These include a famous actor (John Leguizamo) and an influential food critic (Janet McTeer).

We also learn when they arrive at the island that Margot was not Tyler’s first guest for this experience. Elsa (Hong Chau), who serves as a sort of maître d/main assistant to the chef/person who runs everything but the kitchen says that they will make provisions for the substitution, but does seem put out by this, and soon enough we’ll find out why this is the case.

Food service starts, and while it’s odd, things don’t really get strange until we are a couple of courses in. In the second course, everyone is given things that traditionally go on bread, but no bread, and this becomes an issue when a few of the guests complain. In the next course, people get a riff on tacos, but with evidence of their past indiscretions (tax fraud, theft, infidelity) laser printed on the tortillas. And then things rapidly go downhill from here when one of the sous chefs commits suicide in front of everyone.

The thing about The Menu is that there is a turn in this movie where everything starts to make sense, but that is not a moment to have spoiled on a blog. If you’ve seen this, you know what I am talking about, and if you haven’t, you should probably stop reading now. I’m not going to purposefully reveal spoilers, but it’s entirely possible that some will creep through.

There is a great deal going on in The Menu in the sense that it works on a bunch of different levels. It works on the surface level, of course, as a story about an incredibly fancy meal gone either terribly right or terribly wrong, depending on your position in the restaurant. The film has to work on this level, or none of the rest of it works, either.

This is also an allegory that touches on a lot of the same themes as Triangle of Sadness. Chef Slowick has a moment where he fights with two of his frequent diners (Reed Birney and Judith Light) in which the chef mentions that they have ben to this restaurant multiple times despite (or perhaps because of) the cost, but cannot name a single thing that they have had there in any of their past visits. He and his staff break themselves and do everything they can to produce a meal for people who are unwilling to appreciate the experience as anything ore than simply having the experience when other people can’t.

This is also about pretentiousness. The people eating at the restaurant generally can’t appreciate the skill and care that goes into the work, but our food critic does. When one of the emulsions in one of the courses is split, she makes a comment, so Chef Slowik makes sure that she continually gets broken emulsions throughout the meal. Tyler gets called out for his own pretension as someone who seems to know a lot about food to anyone who knows nothing, but to an expert is clearly at the peak of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

This is also a film about the soul crushing nature of the world for everyone but the truly elite. The average people are ground down while the elite do what they will, and even when they fail, they continue to make money. While most of us can’t get ahead, nothing they do will ever prevent them from staying ahead. Parallel with this idea is the idea of the constant need to grind, to monetize everything we do until even those things that we do for fun become things that we resent and regret.

At its heart, The Menu is the playing out of a giant performance art piece, and it is a thing of beauty to watch unfold. This is an instant classic, a film that successfully works on every level it attempts. In fact, there’s only a single issue I have with it. At one point, Elsa acts in a way that doesn’t make a lot of sense with what we know to be the end game—she has a conflict with Margot that is difficult to understand in that context. It can be explained away, but it’s an unfortunate moment.

That said, The Menu is not to be missed.

Why to watch The Menu: This is performance art at its peak.
Why not to watch: There’s one moment that pulls me out of the story.


  1. I still want to see this for the cast and premise though I'm waiting for it to arrive on a streaming service near me.

  2. This was easily one of my favorites from last year. I loved it so much.